Ferry G. Schoonover
Radio School 1942
After our infantry basic training was finished, we started our radio school classes at the 52nd battalion radio school--not only learning Morse code, but radio procedure and operation. To everyone it was a real challenge to learn Morse code and then being able to pass the required receiving speed of 14 words per minute. Our sending speed was much slower.
Every morning after breakfast and making our bunks, we marched in formation down to the bu1ldings where the radio section was trained. At lunch we marched back to the mess hall for lunch, after which we marched back to school for our afternoon classes. The classes were only for the five days, as Saturday was the day for inspection--our footlockers, bed, clothes, the barracks, latrines and our personal appearance had to be accept able to the inspecting officer or one ended up on some detail as punishment. During my stay in Wolters I did not do any extra duty!!!
After learning the Morse code and proper radio procedure we took to the field to learn to operate the radios that the army had at that time. It was all signal corps equipment---some of it quite ancient!! There we practiced our sending and receiving of Morse coded messages and also voice transmissions. The radios had a hand operated generator to produce the power to run the radios. This meant that two men were involved in the operation---one on the radio-with his headset on operating the set and the other turning the handles on the generator. At that time of year the sun in Texas was mighty hot and the small scrubby trees weren't much help. We wore our old green fatigues with the ugly fatigue hat, which was our dress for all of our training at camp Wolters!! It all was enjoyable and fun.
During the 13 weeks of training we had to take our regular turn at K.P. the mess sergeant insisted that the dish water be boiling hot when the dishes were washed. Al Tibbetts had that job one day and burned his hands quite badly, and Al always swore that he would kill that d____ mess sergeant someday! Know he meant it!! K.P. usually involved one of the following assignments--dish washer; pots and pans; dining room orderly; the outside job--garbage engineer first class!! This job 'was taking care of the garbage, scrubbing the cans, tidying up the area, and sometimes the stinky-smelly job of cleaning the grease pits.
During one of my tours as a K.P. first class, one of my duties was peeling potatoes-- the spuds were fresh from the farm: complete with sand and dirt. Quite unexpectedly I was ordered to report into the mess hall. Along with my fellow K.P.'s we were lined up against the wall for an inspection by a general inspecting the sanitary conditions of the mess hall!! '-"1ien he came through, he told us to hold our hands out in front of us for him to see. He naturally looked at our fingers, but was more interested in my fingernails!! He saw the sand undermine and turned fiercely toward the mess sergeant and asked: "what is this man doing with dirty hands and fingernails"? When he was told that I had been peeling unwashed spuds, he calmed down and continued on his way!! For a minute I really thought that I had had it! At least a general had inspected my fingernails!!
Every Sunday I attended chapel and enjoyed it. Col. Baker was the chaplain, and always had a very good sermon. The organist and soloist was a fellow from the Detroit area by the name of Jacoby. The service was very similar to the one at troy Methodist church.
When our training was nearly finished at Camp Wolters, we learned that many of our buddies had applied for and were off to various other posts for special training-- Tibbetts, Palmer, and Zoll were off to officer candidate school-several had enlisted in the ski troops and were off to Colorado springs--my best buddy art Vashon along with several others had joined the paratroopers. The paratroopers had a special incentive--for a private they received the customary $50 a month plus another $50 a month for jump pay! The double pay wasn't enough to get me to volunteer.
When our training finally ended, we were marched down, with all of our belongings to the railroad siding, and were assigned to our coaches. Along with the radio operators, the train was loaded with other 52nd battalion men. The rest of the train was loaded with men from the other battalions-riflemen, heavy weapons men, cooks, bakers, mechanics, and truck drivers. Presently the train pulled out of the camp Wolters siding onto the main track. Where we were headed, we had no idea, hut once the train headed west, we were puzzled whether we were headed for the pacific theater of operations to a camp on the west coast!!
Since I had never been out west, I really enjoyed the desert, the mountains, and all the scenery in western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California! Among the new things I saw was the salten sea, date palms with the big bunches of dates covered with white bags, and many beautiful rock formations. Personally I didn't care for the sand drifting through the windows of our coach.
This had been my first Christmas day I had spent away from home and my first while in the service--I had al ways loved those Christmases at home, when we always had a terrific meal-- turkey and all the trimmings!! Mom always made a slew of pies--pumpkin, elderberry, and mincemeat.
She usually made a suet pudding with a white sauce topping-boy was that good!! This Christmas dinner was to be far different--my worse ever!! With the desert sand drifting through the windows, we were brought a glob of canned army stew--half warm and tasteless!! That was the main course and if we were given anything else--I just don't recall!! It was Christmas day, but our morale and spirits were sure low!!
We finally realized that our destination was California-either to board a ship for the pacific theater of operations or to some Army post. It was late Christmas night when our train pulled into the Los Angeles railroad station and we disembarked and lined up in formations wondering what was next!! Finally they began calling out names of the men and they were assembled in groups to go off to their new destinations. Mine was finally called and I went off with a group of other men to the anti-tank co. Of the 137th infantry regiment of the 35th infantry division.
When we finally arrived at our barracks, they had to hunt up bunks, pillows, and blankets for us--seems they had no prior knowledge that we were to join their outfit on Christmas night!!! They had no mattresses for us, so we slept
On the old wooden cots just with blankets. The small one story barracks were heated by a small stove, and by morning it was real cold in there!! I do believe that the air outside in California was as chilling as that old Michigan air in
December!! We soon found out that we were stationed in Recreation Park in the city of Long Beach, a short distance from the Pacific Ocean and a huge amusement park called "the pike". When we found out that we were in the infantry, we were pretty disappointed--having been to radio school, somehow we had assumed that we would be members of the Army Signal Corps!! Now we were feeling low and discouraged because we were thrown into the bottom of the barrel "the good old infantry"! Although we all felt that way at the time, we soon adjusted and ended up feeling proud to be apart of "uncle Sam's dough foots"!! The park was next to a golf course and full of giant eucalyptus trees and palm trees.
These were fine for shade, but every Saturday one of the chores was raking up the leaves and trash from these trees.
Of course there wasn't a fence around the park or any guards.
Among the men that joined the anti-tank company at the same time I did were: Bob Oster, Bill Reagan, and John Lynn from the 52nd Battalion radio section and the following from the other sections of the 52nd--Max Idler, George Murphy, Bob Solberg, Jack Cody, and Fred Rockey. We soon all became the best of friends!!
Several times I received a pass to go to long beach and down to "the pike". My favorite ride was the roller coaster-there were two of them running side by side--I enjoyed them and the other rides plus the various carnival attractions. Nearby was the municipal auditorium--it was a beautiful building that extended out over the water. When at home our family would listen on the radio to Dr. Ralph Fuller and "the old fashion revival hour" his program always had great singing and Dr. Fuller was a great preacher!! As I recall Dr. Fuller had been a big wheel with the Sunkist company and gave it up to become one of the great preachers of that time!!
Shortly I was transferred over to our "mine platoon"-it was at North Long Beach at another city park—Houghton Park--where the regimental headquarters and headquarters company were stationed. My platoon sergeant there was a tall Kansas national guardsman Mel couch who had been mobilized in 1940 with the 35th infantry division. The mine platoon was assigned there for K.P., guard duty, and all the other dirty jobs that came up!! The captain there was Robert E. Richardson and the mess sergeant was a little guy by the name of Phil Payton--both were old national guardsmen.
Besides our regular duties, there was a large junior high school we were to go to in case of an attack by the Japanese. The post was to patrol around this school, as the civ1lian population was to seek shelter there. This was serious business--at least it appeared that way--we always carried a belt full of 30 cal. Ammo for our rifles--at that time we were equipped with the M-1 Garand semi-automatic rifle. The time I was at Houghton Park we only had one alert, shortly after I arrived there. We grabbed our rifles, ammo belt, and other equipment and ran the distance to our post--it ended up being only a practice run so we were soon waved at to come in. After being back in the park, here comes Sgt. Couch mad as hell, and he gave a good chew from one end to the other--I can still feel it!! He said, "Why didn't you tell the next man around the corner of the building that the alert was over???" "He’s been out there for two hours patrolling back and forth!" chew-chew-chew!! The man out there in the hot burning son was my friend from Lansing, Michigan--Irving Christian it had been a terrible day--not only a big, big chewing, but somehow I had lost my five buck Gruen watch!!!!! The real funny thing about this incident was: no one had told me a thing about what my duties were in case of an alert!!
At Houghton Park we slept in squad tents on wooden cots. When I arrived there, I had to stuff a mattress cover with straw to use for a bed!! In the daytime we would roll up the sides of the tent to air them out, and move our cots outside in the sun in front of the tent to give them a good airing. Some mornings when we fell out for revelry the grass would be so slippery with frost, that we would slid all over the place--but by noon time it was so hot that we could have run around in our birthday suits!!
The K.P. duty there wasn’t bad and the food was good. They always had avocados real often and one of our men loved them--Cyrus cannon- a Californian. That was one food I didn't care for the and still isn't something I crave!!
My one pass to Los Angeles and Hollywood was a dream come true. In L.A. I wandered about the downtown area and was amazed at the super long lunch counter at the Woolworth 5 and 10 cent store-- after which I took a bus to Hollywood to see the sights on sunset blvd. Visited the "stage door canteen", "Grumman’s Chinese theater", several motion picture studios, and the radio broadcasting facilities. Also took a good look at the giant "Hollywood" sign on the top of the mountain there. This had to be one of the best passes that I took during my time in the service!!
Californians were very special people! If you as a service man needed a ride, all you had to do was to go out to the side of the highway and before you ever raised a thumb, tires would squeal and someone would give you a lift--most of the time to anywhere you wished to go!! My thanks go out to them for their favors and patriotism!!
When the 35th divisions' duty with the west coast defense command came to an end, the mine platoon was transferred back to long beach and Recreation Park to again be apart of the anti-tank co. At that time our company was made up of the following: headquarters platoon--cooks, mechanics, radio operators, plus the various drivers, non-coms, and officers, the mine platoon, and three 37 mm anti-tank. Gun platoons. The mine platoons job was to put out mine fields, to use mine detectors to find and then destroy enemy mine fields. The three 37 mm anti-tank platoons each had three guns and gun crews, and their duties were to set up with infantrymen--1st platoon with 1st battalion--2nd with 2nd BN.--the 3rd with 3rd BN. Our commanding officer was a Kansan--Capt. Quentin Donnellan--other officers were: Lt. Joe Gill, Lt. Adelbert Gilbert, and some others I can't remember. The first sergeant was a former Topeka policeman and national guardsman-Henry "Hank" Bausch---his son John was one of the platoon sergeants and when his dad was called up with the national guard, Johnny joined up to go, although he was underage!!! Hank when we in combat was in his forties!! They always were fair and square with me!!
Often we would mount up and go down to Irvine Park to shoot our rifles and the 37 mm guns. It was a beautiful drive down there as we would go through Orange County past the many groves of orange, lemon, and English walnut groves.
There were many times we would march in formation or hike in the city of Long Beach. Once we took a hike up the dry Los Angeles river bed! One of the amazing sights there was signal hill--it was full of oil wells--almost on top of each other!!
On April 15, 1943 we were slated to depart from Recreation Park, and I was notified that it was jv1y turn to catch K.P., and to report to the kitchen early that morning (in the middle of the night) to do my duty!! We helped put up box lunches for the entire company, besides doing the breakfast chores and cleaning the kitchen, get the kitchen ready to move, besides have our own belongings packed and loaded to move. Finally we were ready to mount-up and move out!!! Leaving long beach, we headed north 1brough Santa Barbara, seeing some beautiful country-side, to the San Luis Obispo Army Camp.
The camp was made up of small tarpaper shacks that had been built on the wooden platforms that once were used for tents. Four of us were assigned to each hut. No sooner had I gotten settled, wren the word came down to report to the mess hall to complete our days K.P. duties. After the evening meal was over we still had to work until nearly midnight before we were released to return to our new home!! Talk about being tired---we were all bushed!! This had to be my worst stint of K.P. duty. One of the fellows that was on K.P. the same day never forgot it either---Norman Wensky.
The camp was a neat place, not only was the small huts we lived in, but all of the camp was great!! They had a very good P.X., and I enjoyed going to the service club to read books. On one of my journeys there I went up the steps into the building and noticed this big M.P. on duty. Our eyes met as we recognized each other--we both exclaimed at the same time-----" what are you doing here?" it was John Mohritz, also from Utica and a former student also at Utica High. Seems that he had been in the new regiment being formed-the 320th infantry regiment. He was able to transfer over to the 35th division military police platoon.
We soon learned why we were at camp San Luis Obispo-- the 140th infantry regiment was taken out of the 35th division and sent to the Aleutian Islands to quell any invasion by the Japs. We were to train a new regiment that had been formed as the replacement for the 140th. The process of doing this was as follows: one third of the men in the 134th regiment and one third of the men in the 137th regiment were sent to be a part of the new 320th regiment and in return one third of the recruits from the 320th became part of the 134th and one-third came to the 137th -- this gave each regiment one-third of the recruits and two thirds of trained men and national guardsmen!!
This meant that we all began what was basic training-this involved close order drill, map reading, trips to the rifle range, and everything else involved in basic training. Three things that I remember most about the training at camp San Luis Obispo: 1. Practicing guard mount in the sticky, gummy, soil in the rain, and how hard it was to march with that goo on our feet!! 2. Going out in the surrounding hills on compass problems and trying to find our way in those dark eerie-rainy nights!! 3. Getting poison oak all over my body and going to the medics and getting calamine lotion to put on the rash-this stuff was almost useless to cure it or to ease the itchiness!! Finally my avocado eating friend--Cyrus Cannon gave me a small jar of a brownish salve (probably Watkins petro carbo salve)-- this relieved the itchy feeling and after many weeks cured the darn rash!!!
The company took many hikes out into the country side-to Morro Bay, were we saw the giant rock sticking out of the Water--Morro Rock, and to Pismo Beach. The farms in that area were neat too and one in particular caught my fancy! It was a wheat farm with huge rocks sticking out of the ground surrounding the farmhouse. Also on these hikes I also saw my first "California gate"--an entrance with rails laid horizontal so the cattle couldn't exit the field.
Since the only way to get to the town of San Luis Obispo was by taxi I never bothered to go there! The P.X. in camp had everything I needed anyway!
The men of the 35th signal co1mp any had been sent to the Aleutians or overseas with another outfit, so they were in need of replacements-- two of the anti-tankers had transferred to them, so I decided to go up there in my spare time and see if there was a chance for me to do the same. Up I went and received permission to talk to the commanding officer--captain Amos. He questioned me about my radio training and said if I could pass a Morse code test and my commanding officer agreed to transfer me, he would accept my transfer. So back I go to our orderly room and get permission to speak to captain Quentin Donnellan. Well that to my disgust didn't work out too well!!! The captain plainly told me: no we will not transfer you, as we need you here as a radio operator!! Boy! Was I mad!! The time I had been in the company, there was no time when I had had anything whatsoever to do with radio operation!! Of course the good captain knew that we were to lose our communication sergeant and one of the two radio operators in the shift of men to the 320th. Regiment and in forming a new cannon company. Sergeant Paul Randell was to go to the new cannon company and Dick Diehl would transfer to the 320th. Anyway at the time I was not too thrilled about being turned down!!! We also was to lose quite a lot of the old national guardsmen plus my Camp Wolters buddy--Bill Reagon -- he hailed from around Cleveland, Ohio, but in return there were many new younger men to replace them--a good lot of them boys from the southern states!
We departed from San Luis Obispo in April of 1943 by rail in Pullman cars-- two men were assigned to both the lower and the upper berths to sleep, but during the day would ride in the lower berth, which was converted into seating for four men.
It was my luck to be paired up with my good Washington state buddy frank levering--he was a giant of a man, but we made the trip just fine!! The ride was terrible-- the Pullman car we were on w0uld kind of coast along and then it would give a big jerk, and this made sleeping almost impossible!!
As we chugged out of California and across Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico we all enjoyed the beautiful 'western scenery. The train passed within a few miles of camp Wolters-my old alma- mater. The troop train w as delayed when we reached New Orleans, so it was backed into a siding. The lt. Colonel in charge came around and informed us that we would be there for a couple of hours, said we could do as we pleased, but to be sure to be back in our seats on the train at a set time. The men took off to sightsee, get a snack, or to the various bars. I stayed fairly close to the train because I feared that I might get lost in a strange city!! When it came time to leave, roll call was made and everyone was present
And accounted for!!!
The train continued on its way into Mississippi, along the coast, where we saw the army air force field near Biloxi, and some scenery along the gulf coast. Finally later in the day we would reach our destination--camp Rucker, Alabama, which was located near Ozark, enterprise, Daleville, and Dothan.